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The Story of China Ancestors
Michael Wood embarks on a great historical adventure, exploring the stories, people and landscapes that have helped create China's distinctive character and genius over four thousand years. Is the history of the world's newest superpower, from its ancient past to the present day.
Starting in Wuxi, Michael joins the Qin family reunion, when 300 relatives gather to worship their ancestors on Tomb Sweeping Day. 'Like the nation, the family has been through so much,' one says. 'Now everyone wants to know - what are our roots?'
Looking for the origins of the Chinese state, he visits the excavations at Erlitou and sees an exquisite turquoise dragon sceptre from 2000 BC. China's first writing is found on 'oracle bones' dug up from the Shang royal tombs at Anyang in the 1920s. At the Beijing Planetarium, Michael travels back in time as astronomers plot the planetary conjunction that the ancients believed foretold the overthrow of the Shang Dynasty. Next, the Age of Philosophers and Confucius, whose book Analects has had greater influence worldwide than even the Bible, according to some. In Xi'an, we hear how the First Emperor united China and created the authoritarian Qin state that gave us the word China. Finally, Michael returns to the temple fair in Henan for a dramatic night ceremony to give thanks to the ancestors. China, Michael concludes, is rising again, not just because of its economic strength, but because of the incredible solidarity of the Han Chinese view of their own civilisation, their sense of family and, of course, the presence of the ancestors.
The Story of China
The Age of Revolution
Between 1850 and 1950, three cataclysmic revolutions shook China to the core, but out of them, today's China emerged. The film begins in Canton with the meeting of a US missionary and a Chinese student. Inspired by the Christian story and calling himself God's second son, Hong unleashed the bloodiest war of the 19th century, the Taiping Rebellion.
As imperial China weakened, foreign influence grew. Treaty ports expanded, bringing growth and wealth, trams, railways and western sensibilities. But this provoked another surge of violence, the Boxer Rebellion, an attack against the foreigners, which was crushed by those same foreigners, who extorted a huge indemnity - $60 billion in today's money.
Then in 1912, the empire fell, and many groups contested China's future. In World War I, China sent 100,000 men to the western front, only to be humiliated at Versailles when German colonies in China were handed to Japan. Between the two world wars, the disparity between rich and poor, city and countryside increased. We visit Hong Kong's Peninsular Hotel in the jazz age and then follow Mao on the Long March to Yan'an, the heartland of revolution.
World War II came to China two years earlier than it did in the west. Wood talks to a survivor of the Japanese massacre of Nanjing in 1937 and then charts the triumph of the communists, before ending the story with Mao's death and the boom time of the last 30 years. The series ends with the warmth of the Chinese family and, at Beijing's Altar of Heaven, a final haunting glimpse of eternal China.
The Story of China
The tale of one of China's most famous dynasties begins with the amazing story of Hongwu, a peasant rebel who founded one of greatest eras in Chinese history. The film takes us to his great capital Nanjing, with its 21 miles of walls, each brick stamped with the name of the village that made it. Following the trail, we go to the Bao family village and see the villagers act a Ming murder story.
Like many authoritarian states, the Ming were obsessive about architecture. We see the giant fortifications of the Great Wall, the ritual enclaves of the Forbidden City in Beijing and travel with bargeman Mr Hu down the Grand Canal, China's great artery of commerce right up to the present day. We then hear about Admiral Zheng He's voyages to Africa and the Gulf decades before Columbus, watch the construction of an ocean-going wooden boat 250ft long, and hitch a ride on a replica Ming junk in the South China Sea.
As state prosperity grew, so did a rising middle class. Wood looks at Ming culture in Suzhou, the 'Venice of China'. Staying in a merchant's house, he discovers the silk, ceramic and lacquer-making industries, and visits one of the most beautiful gardens in the city. Then on to Macao and the arrival of Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, who hoped to convert China to Christianity. In the cathedral in Beijing, we learn more about these fateful exchanges with the west. Finally in Shaoxing, we visit the house of the 'Ming Proust' and at grassroots the Zhao family in Fujian where the film ends in an elegiac mood with the fall of the Ming in 1644.
The Story of China
Asia and Australia
In this bird's-eye view of two continents, demoiselle cranes negotiate a dangerous Himalayan pass on their way to India while high-flying bar-headed geese take the fast track five miles above. In Rajasthan, vultures watch hunting tigers hoping for a meal and pigeons visit a temple dedicated solely to sacred rats. Pigeons are also our guide to the greatest gatherings of camels on Earth and learn to dodge buzzards around the battlements of Jodhpur Fort. 9,000 cranes overwinter in the most unlikely of spots - a barbed wire compound in the centre of a desert town. In Australia, rainbow lorikeets drop in on Sydney and patrol Australia's Gold Coast. In the outback, white cockatoos swirl in thousands and budgerigars pass Uluru (Ayers Rock) and gather in the biggest flocks ever recorded. In China, swallows and swifts visit the Great Wall and the Forbidden City of Beijing. In Japan, the country's most revered birds - Japanese cranes are fed fish by appreciative locals and are joined in strange, momentary harmony by hungry red foxes, white-tailed eagles and Steller's eagles. As peace descends, Japanese cranes dance beautifully in the snow.
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